David Brooks Laments the Rise of ‘Gritty and More Confrontational’ Art in Column

Matthew Cerletty, David Brooks, 2009. ANDREW RUSSETH/COURTESY THE ARTIST

Matthew Cerletty’s 2009 portrait of David Brooks.


New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks once devoted a column to celebrating artist Dustin Yellin and the zany utopia he’s created in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Now Brooks is back to waxing poetic on the impact of art—his column in today’s paper goes long on his idea of how art in our “post-humanist moment” doesn’t take its cues from a devotion to beauty, and therefore cannot be properly important or impactful. Or something like that. Here’s a bit of it.

Over the past century, artists have had suspicious and varied attitudes toward beauty. Some regard all that aesthetics-can-save-your-soul mumbo jumbo as sentimental claptrap. They want something grittier and more confrontational. In the academy, theory washed like an avalanche over the celebration of sheer beauty — at least for a time.

For some reason many artists prefer to descend to the level of us pundits. Abandoning their natural turf, the depths of emotion, symbol, myth and the inner life, they decided that relevance meant naked partisan stance-taking in the outer world (often in ignorance of the complexity of the evidence). Meanwhile, how many times have you heard advocates lobby for arts funding on the grounds that it’s good for economic development?

To make his point, Brooks has studded the column with poster-ready inspirational quotes from Vincent van Gogh, Paul Klee, and Georgia O’Keeffe, but overall he seems pretty bummed out that “we accidentally abandoned a worldview that showed how art can be used to cultivate the fullest inner life.” Perhaps he thinks all artists should aspire to be like one artist in particular: like Klaus Biesenbach, Brooks is a big fan of Lady Gaga.

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